Next week, the University of North Carolina Wilmington Faculty Senate will consider an unusual step with regard to its chancellor.
At a special meeting Tuesday, the Senate is set to debate a motion of no confidence in Chancellor Jose Sartarelli that has been made by one faculty member and supported by about 23 other senators and faculty members, according to Senate President Nathan Grove, a professor of chemistry.
“My read of [the motion and request for the special meeting] is there is a group of faculty that is disappointed in how the chancellor has talked and responded to the recent racial justice issues that have come up in the country since George Floyd’s murder over the summer,” Grove said Tuesday. “And so, that’s really what the motion speaks to: what some faculty see as the chancellor’s lack of commitment to the issues of diversity and inclusion.”
Grove said he cannot speak with any certainty about what direction the Senate might take at next week’s meeting. The plan is to vote on the motion one way or the other, but there could be additional options.
“There could be motions from senators to postpone or to substitute,” he said. “There is some talk among senators that a vote of no confidence is too far; so there could be a vote of censure.”
Senators also could choose to vote against any motion of disapproval. With 82 senators representing 10 faculty members each, there will be many points of view, Grove noted.
Chancellor Sartarelli usually attends Faculty Senate meetings, and the president expects him to be present at this meeting.
Grove’s responsibility as president is to make sure all senators have the materials they need, follow the Senate bylaws and keep the debate balanced, allowing all senators to voice the positions of their constituents. Any faculty-originated step to express disapproval of a chancellor is highly unusual and may never have happened before at UNCW, he noted.
Should the Faculty Senate vote no confidence in the chancellor, or agree to censure him, what weight does that decision carry?
“It’s a bit of a sign to the Board of Trustees that the faculty have lost confidence in the chancellor’s ability to lead UNCW,” Grove said. “There is no action that is attached to it; it’s ultimately up to the Board of Trustees to decide how to deal with that. Do they support the chancellor? Make changes? Ask the chancellor to leave? They decide how to go forward.”
Reached Tuesday morning, the board’s chairman Henry “Hal” Kitchin Jr. said he has no comment at this time as to what the trustees’ response might be to any vote taken by the Senate next week.
In response to a request for comment, Chancellor Sartarelli's office referenced his Oct. 21 message to the entire “Seahawk Community," in which he wrote of his attendance at two earlier meetings addressing diversity.
“At both meetings, I was asked to communicate more clearly my commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion," he stated. "To clarify where I stand, let me state again, Black lives matter to me, both as a person and as Chancellor of this great university. I fully understand this fundamental human rights issue must be acknowledged as we grapple with our complex history and present reality as a nation and a city. It has always been my hope to work together, with you, in building a more substantial and inclusive community of scholars at UNCW.”
As part of the longer message, the chancellor also expressed the hope that he had not been misunderstood.
“I hope that, in leading through these difficult times, my focus and determination have not inadvertently increased tensions or despair for any members of our community,” he wrote. “If they have, I apologize. Irrespective of my leadership style, I want the campus community to understand that I am willing to listen, learn, change and accept good ideas and real solutions from wherever they come.”